Thursday, 31 July 2014

7th Sunday after Pentecost 27 Jul 2014 Sermon

7th Sunday after Pentecost 27.7.14 Seeking happiness

Christian life is often seen as harder than ordinary life because we have to go to more trouble to be good, and to make proper use of all the things that God places at our disposal.

Undoubtedly the Christian life requires a lot of discipline, but we will always find that any effort we expend in the pursuit of holiness will be worth it.

We, like everyone else, are seeking to be happy. Everyone wants to be happy. It is just a matter of how we go about it. We can try to be happy just for this life alone, or we can aim for eternal happiness.

For this life alone: there are some who live by their instincts, and just seek to grasp every pleasure that comes along, without worrying too much if it is legal or moral. Just do it.

This is simply self-indulgence, leading to spiritual death, as St Paul puts it: the wages of sin are death.

There are other people, more restrained, who manage to keep self-control and discipline in their pursuit of happiness but they stop at only earthly happiness. They have no thought for eternity. These yield bad fruit (Gospel) in the form of wrong thinking, wrong behaviour, and false gods. Anything that does not lead to the one true God is ‘bad fruit’.

We, for our part, aim for eternal happiness, and we direct all our energies to achieve that goal. This does not mean we ignore the things of the world, because part of the process of getting to heaven requires that we handle earthly things well - eg using our resources to help the poor.

It is a delicate business staying on the right side of God’s law, remaining in a state of grace.
It requires that we balance up our use of things, our attitude to people and things, our general attitude to life.

It requires that we keep a long term view of happiness, with our hearts and minds firmly fixed on heaven.

The things of this world are provided for our benefit and to give us a foretaste of much better things in heaven. We can enjoy the things of this world but must not be too attached to them - to the point that they become false gods.

Suppose I am a keen gardener. I make flowers for God's glory. But if I become upset when I win only second prize then I am losing my way.

So we must always remember the spiritual long-term view in all our actions, possessions, habits. We must avoid being addicted to things. We use lightly whatever we have. This is not my whole world. I do this but it is not everything, just a step on the way.

We have to reassess all the time; keep on track or get back on track.

It is easy (as we see from the number who do it) to live as though God does not exist, or does not matter.

If we worry too much about our ambitions, appearance, houses, cars, finances, etc… What has God got to do with it, people ask.

The only ‘good fruit’ is that which leads to eternal life and which moves souls closer to that.

Where will I be in a hundred years from today? This is the question.

We all want to be happy and God wants it too. It is just that He and I have different ideas about how to get there. He is always going to be right but I will be tempted to fight Him every inch of the way.

We make it very hard for ourselves by not accepting the ‘terms and conditions’. It is so much easier if we ‘read the directions’ first!

If we would just look in God’s direction (He creates, saves, offers grace every day) it would be a lot easier but we thrash around and make it worse.

To attain the ultimate prize we must forego lesser delights along the way. This will become easier as we focus more on Heaven, on the God who dwells there.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

6th Sunday after Pentecost 20 July 2014 Sermon

6th Sunday after Pentecost 20.7.14 Seeking perfection

The demand for holiness is absolute in our faith. In practice people tend to settle for a ‘near enough is good enough’ approach.

It is true God will forgive our sins and will reward our good efforts but we should not rest with that. We should strive to be as holy as possible.

Biblical passages, such as today’s epistle, remind us that we don’t do things by halves around here.

The call for holiness is absolute: we go into the water as the old self and come out the new self, a different person in spiritual terms, renewed, revitalised.

The same could be said for whenever we go to Confession, or Holy Communion. We are thinking each time of making a new start, walking in the perfection of Christ.

When we talk of perfection people start running for cover, looking for excuses, for reasons why they cannot be expected to be perfect.

It is all a matter of how we word things. If we hear that we must behave ourselves and keep all the commandments that can sound burdensome. But if we are offered freedom and happiness that sounds very appealing. And yet it comes to the same thing.

Would you rather be dead or alive? In prison or free? Hungry or well-fed? When it comes to absolute opposites like these it is easy for us to choose.

But when it comes to the spiritual life we are suddenly less clear. We like to have one foot in each camp. We want to follow the Lord but also we want to keep our worldly interests.

Because we do not commit fully to the new life we are offered we find ourselves compromised, and everything is much harder. One foot forward, the other foot backward. It is very uncomfortable to be like that.

But unless we commit we are not likely to see what the attraction of a holy life is, so we remain in the fog of indecision. Many people reject the Catholic faith but they are rejecting what they have never known.

The Church is so often presented as a stern law-making body that lacks a real understanding of humanity. We will find that this is not the case. In fact the Church is the centre of where divine meets human and great joy results.

For our part we look for the grace to make a decisive, once for all break with sin; to leave sin behind like we would leave behind a prison uniform.

Zero tolerance for sin! If we cannot do this in one day, or one week, we will never cease striving and working for this goal.

All this striving is so that we can become more fully alive. And further, so that we can discover the love of God for His own sake.

The Church speaks of ‘perfect contrition’. This is where we are sorry for our sin simply because we have offended Almighty God.

Imperfect contrition is when we are sorry for our sins more out of a fear of punishment than out of true love. (This is better than nothing but not ideal.)

The more we embrace God’s ways the more we get to love Him and the easier it becomes to obey Him. Love and obedience coalesce as one response. Simply out of gratitude and love we do our best to please Him.

There is more happiness in keeping the commands than in breaking them. We come to enjoy doing things God’s way as we discover the freedom available to us.

We take this Mass as one more chance to renew our commitment to walk in the new life Christ has won for us.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

5th Sunday after Pentecost 13 Jul 2014 Sermon

5th Sunday after Pentecost 13.7.14 Achieving Unity

The Mass is the offering of the sacrifice of Christ in atonement for the sins of the world, especially our own sins.

The congregation gathered for the Mass seeks to offer their own hearts and minds in union with the offering of Christ.

This in turn depends on the faith and general disposition of each person at the Mass.

The Gospel today highlights the importance of the congregation being totally as one in the offering. If there is discord in the congregation the purity of the offering will be compromised.

The sacrifice of Christ Himself is always perfect insofar as He offers Himself, but our joining onto His sacrifice can be more or less successful depending on the state of our hearts and minds.

So, one thing that is happening at Mass is that we are praying for our contribution to be as perfect as it can be. Orate, fratres… that my and your sacrifice may be acceptable to God the Father Almighty.

We are not sure of our own inner dispositions. In any case we always need divine help to be in the proper state of mind and heart.

Disunity is an impediment to the effectiveness of our offering. We should be in union since we are all doing the very same thing: worshipping the same God, offering the same sacrifice. How could we not be at one with each other?

The necessity of loving one another is reaffirmed everywhere in the New Testament: For example: If any one says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. (1 Jn 4, 20) And, even more strongly: Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. (1 Jn 3, 15)

What we think of the others is an indication of how much we love God.

If I love God I would be of one heart and mind with Him and I would love my neighbour because He loves that same person.

And we know that God loves even those who do not love Him. We find this part very difficult but it will come to us as we grow closer to God. The closer we come to the furnace the warmer we become.

The Gospel says that we should not come to offer sacrifice unless first reconciled with our brother. In practice we make this a little easier. One can come to Mass even if unreconciled but we can use the Mass as a chance to pray for reconciliation.

I pray for whatever I have to change and whatever the other person needs to change.

We can be in a state of sin or weakness and come to be strengthened. Even if unable to take Holy Communion we can still benefit from being here.

If we seek His love we will find it here and it will help us change. Doors will open; things that need to happen will happen.

All this and more is happening at each Mass. How necessary it is that we do not see the Mass as simply a mechanical ritual that is there to be got over with!

There is so much that needs to happen in each individual and in each community.

We owe it to each other to bring our very best attitude (Sunday best), seeking deeper union with God, and from that with each other.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

4th Sunday after Pentecost 6 Jul 2014 Sermon

4th Sunday after Pentecost 6.7.14 The problem of suffering

St Paul in today’s epistle speaks of creation groaning in anticipation of events yet to happen, namely the full transformation of the world in the light of Christ’s resurrection, ascension, and return in glory.

Christ has risen. He has overcome sin and death. Yet the world is still full of misery! How can this be? In brief it is because too much of the human race is still disobeying the will of God. And this disobedience (= sin) results in a large amount of disorder in the world.

If we stopped sinning the world would be a very pleasant place to live.

Many people tackle this from the wrong end. They say, Why is there so much wrong in the world? It must mean there is no God? Or that He has abandoned us…. etc.

Do we interpret God in terms of the suffering or the suffering in terms of God? This is the choice we have.

As Catholics we think of God first and then look at the suffering. The reason there is suffering is that people do not obey God.

Sin causes suffering. If there were no sin ever committed there would have been no suffering either.

We usually cannot attribute particular outcomes to particular sins but we do know that every sin makes matters worse; and conversely that every good action will make things better.

There are forces for good and forces for evil. Which one is going to come out stronger? That is up to us.

The people say: If God fixes the problems then I will believe in Him. God says: if the people will believe in Me, then I will fix the problems. Who is going to give way first?

If we all behaved, and prayed, we would have a much better society than we have now - much less crime, and even less accidents, less ‘natural’ disasters.

It begins with you and me. We may or may not live to see a better world but we will at least have peace of mind ourselves. We will have to take some of the fallout resulting from the disorder of the world, but in the midst of that we can still have interior peace.

In any case we must not be too pessimistic about the future of the world. We cannot rule out the power of grace, the power of God to act on large numbers of people at the same time, as He did at Fatima, for example. We can be sure that God desires a major transformation of the human race and we can hope that He will accelerate this outcome.

We must do our bit, meanwhile, and regardless of any other circumstance.

And we offer the same solution to anyone we contact.

If it seems improbable that things improve we have today’s Gospel, where the apostles are told to put out their nets, even though it is not the best time of day. Worldly logic would say it is unlikely they will catch anything. And it is probably how we feel as to our prospects of converting sinners.

But if we obey as the apostles did we will be providing the fuel for the fire, the channel needed for the grace of God to advance.

Who knows what size catch we can make? Or how much influence on the surrounding society? Hard hearts can melt. The way people treat each other can change. Swords will be turned into ploughshares (Is 2,4).

We are talking here of more than just goodwill. Only by grace can we change things, and still maintain hope through all the disorders around us (thus today’s epistle: we groan but we also hope).

So far we (the human race) have reaped what we have sown. If we give humble obedience to the will of God we will see a different harvest!

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Sts Peter and Paul 29 Jun 2014 Sermon

Feast of St Peter and Paul 29.6.14 Called to greatness

Why did God entrust His Church to human agency which makes such heavy work of it? Because He wanted us to be saved through our own cooperation and not just leaving it all to Him.

The sins we commit, the errors we make, are all part of the learning process as we slowly make our way back to how God always intended us to be.

The progress of Sts Peter and Paul are examples of the human and divine working at the same time, with finally the divine winning out and the human being perfected.

We can consider Peter and Paul at the personal level and also for what they symbolise.

At the personal level we see that both men had transforming experiences. Peter probably would have been happy to end his days as a fisherman and would not have expected to go down in history in such a famous role.

But he was called to greatness, and with some hesitation, fulfilled his destiny.

Many identify with Peter as a person who speaks before he thinks, yet who has an admirable warmth and sincerity. Peter needed his honesty and directness harnessed for a higher cause.

Paul had great zeal for the things of God. But he had the wrong belief. He accepted correction humbly. Then he applied the same zeal in the right cause.

Both men convey a quickness to grasp an ideal and immediately apply it. We all want these qualities such as warmth, honesty, courage, zeal… to be good in a crisis.

We are not all called to such greatness as Peter and Paul were, but we all have certain good qualities which need enhancing, focusing, refining… And we all have things wrong with us which need removing or correcting.

As we see, it does not take much to derail someone from being a good disciple of Christ. Only one or two faults can do it. To be a fully operational fighting machine, a truly dedicated and useful disciple requires that we work on it constantly. Like a racing car.

God can take someone and form him; bring out his best qualities while chipping away the bad points.

So we are all here for repairs, to be made ready for the big race.

This is the battle that every individual must fight; the transformation we all need to experience.

At the more symbolic level: Peter, we could say, represents the fixed nature of the Church and Paul the mobile.

What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? The Church needs to be both these things.

Immovable, insofar as we possess the core truth. We stand as a house of rock which will not fall over no matter how strong the winds of adversity blow.

The world tells us we should update our teachings. We say we cannot change the fundamental truths which God Himself has put in place. We can change our behaviour (for the better) and we agree we should do that, but not the teachings.

Irresistible force: is represented by Paul, the great evangeliser, missionary. He understood that the Gospel is meant for the whole world, all nations.

The Gospel at one level can be resisted, and rejected, but as the word of God it carries a certain force which no human agency can quell.

If we are to ignore it we have to turn truth on its head, and ourselves inside out not to see its compelling nature. My word does not return to Me empty, said the Lord (Is 55,11).

So the Church is both – immoveable and irresistible – or would be if enough of us played our part.

May the prayers of Sts Peter and Paul help us to improve, both at the personal and ecclesial levels, and see better days.